Why Far-Right Hindus Love Demonizing Palestinians

Israel’s war has no keener defenders than far-right Hindus spreading fake news on Twitter/X. But their dogged support for Israel isn’t just a matter of inflammatory posts — it goes hand in hand with rising repression against Muslims in India itself.

Supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party holding Indian and Israeli flags during a pro-Israel protest, New Delhi, India, October 15, 2023. (Pradeep Gaur / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images)

In the aftermath of the bombing of the al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza, social media was ablaze with a surge of disinformation about who was to blame for the attack. This included a post from a Twitter/X account, which posed as an Al Jazeera journalist named “Farida Khan,” falsely claiming to possess a video of a “Hamas missile landing in the hospital.” The account was deleted once Al Jazeera issued a clarification stating that it did not employ anyone by that name. But the damage had already been done, with the false claims all over social media.

This account was part of a larger wave of far-right Hindu Indian accounts actively spreading Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian disinformation. Alarmingly, Indian accounts like that of “Farida” are at the forefront of fighting Israel’s PR war, often using fake news to justify war crimes against Palestinians and stoke hatred against Muslim minorities living in India.

Since the start of the latest round of conflict on October 7, far-right Hindu Indians have been flooding feeds and chat groups on Twitter/X, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp with stories, videos, and photos falsely blaming Palestinians for gruesome atrocities, in order to bolster Israel’s claims that its carpet-bombing of civilians is a matter of self-defense.

Posts circulated among millions of Indians on Twitter/X claim that Hamas kidnapped an Israeli baby, beheaded a boy, and abducted women as sex slaves — all claims that have been debunked, but continue to go viral because of the online Hindu far-right ecosystem. Other posts claim that images of Palestinians hospitalized from Israeli airstrikes are actors and images of bloodied children are the work of makeup artists. Old videos go viral after new labels are slapped on them: a ten-year-old protest in Egypt is spun as proof that Al Jazeera fakes footage of dead Palestinians; postelection celebrations in Turkey are recast as an attack on the Israeli embassy; a video of a Mexican man being disemboweled is labeled as Hamas cutting a fetus out of a pregnant Israeli woman.

Prominent Indian news personalities have regurgitated this disinformation, including one TV editor who declared that he would not forget or forgive “Islamic terrorists . . . [who] tear open the stomachs of pregnant mothers and cut babies and keep them on the tip of spears.” Under posts put out by Israeli government officials and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Twitter/X, Indian accounts are seen offering support, posting Islamophobic anti-Palestinian memes, and spreading further misinformation about how India’s Muslim minorities pose a similar threat to India’s national security.

The question arises: Why are so many far-right Hindu Indians fervently supporting Israel, particularly when India’s founding leaders staunchly opposed the creation of the Israeli state and its basis in Zionism? Not only did India once have a reputation of routine support for Palestine within the United Nations — including by voting against the creation of Israel — but it was also the first non-Arab country to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as official representative of the Palestinian people. Moreover, India refused to establish diplomatic relations with Israel until 1992, and did so only after the PLO began dialogue with the Israeli government. How, then, did so many Indians get to the point of showering the Israeli embassy with support, to the point that many are enthusiastically volunteering to serve in the IDF?

Hindutva Ideology

The answer lies in the widespread influence of a similar ideology: Hindutva, or Hindu supremacism, which believes India should be a Hindu ethnostate. The ideology, which has been heavily pushed by the far-right government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since they came to power in 2014, believes that to create this Hindu state, religious minorities — particularly Muslims and Christians — should be either driven out or subjected to genocide.

Hindu nationalist rhetoric spares no vitriol in demonizing Muslims specifically, labeling them as invaders, land usurpers, sexual predators, and terrorists who should be subjected to genocidal violence and ethnic cleansing. It’s no surprise, therefore, that as support for Hindutva skyrocketed throughout the country, India became one of the top originators of anti-Muslim social media posts globally, producing a staggering 55 percent of anti-Muslim content on Twitter/X alone between 2019 and 2021.

Ironically, the founders of Hindutva, including ideologues Vinayak Savarkar and M. S. Golwalkar, praised the genocide of Jews during the Holocaust and openly admired Nazism; yet present-day Hindutva supporters see a reflection of themselves in Zionist demands for a Jewish state at the expense of Palestinians. Both ideologies rely on religious and racial supremacist narratives to declare the need for their own state; both claim that outsiders have defiled their ancient homelands; both engage in pinkwashing to paint their own group as morally superior to the “barbarians.” And while Zionists have not declared Islam itself as their enemy (despite their documented links with the global Islamophobia industry), this caveat hardly matters to Hindutva supporters when both ideologies also require stoking hatred for Muslims, dehumanizing them as threats standing in the way of the creation of a homeland. Hindutva has also begun following the same playbook as Zionism to crush its opponents: flooding the media and education system with propaganda, using bulldozers to demolish Muslim-owned homes, and cracking down on anyone who protests supremacist or racist politics.

Bollywood actress and vocal Hindu far-right supporter Kangana Ranaut revealed this bond of shared Islamophobia when she met Israel’s ambassador to India, Naor Gilon, in late October: “That they can’t give us [each of Hindus and Jews] one land is inhumane and stingy of the Islamic world. . . . Today, the whole world, especially Israel and India, are fighting their war against terrorism.” In a way, Hindutva supporters have claimed the Zionist cause as their own simply because the targets are predominantly Muslim.

Islamophobia in India

Modi, too, has played up this narrative. When he declared that India “stands in solidarity with Israel” on October 7, and powerful politicians linked with the ruling party claimed India faced similar threats, it was seen as a green light by the Hindu right’s powerful internet ecosystem to conflate Islam, Palestinians, and terrorism as a singular demonic entity that threatens India and Israel alike, using disinformation as “proof.” Ignoring any kind of historical contextualization of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Hindu militant leaders have claimed that the Hamas attack was just the one more manifestation of a ubiquitous “Islamic terrorism.” BJP leaders have amplified this narrative for domestic gains, increasing the threat of violence toward an already battered population of two hundred million Indian Muslims, who already face regular mob violence, lynchings, threats of sexual violence, criminalization of religious expression, attacks on citizenship rights, and illegal home demolitions.

A senior BJP leader, Basangouda Patil Yatnal, claimed that India “may face the situation that Israel is confronting today if we don’t stand up against politically motivated radicalism.” Another BJP leader posted a video of a pro-Israel rally showing Hindu supremacists chanting, “The battle lines are drawn clear, Israel is our friend,” as a direct contrast to pro-Palestine rallies led by Indian Muslims. These rallies are the subject of a government crackdown, where largely Muslim protesters are assaulted, arrested under criminal charges, and labeled as anti-India terrorist sympathizers. Even beyond protests, Muslim support for Palestine is treated as criminal activity: four men were arrested simply for waving the Palestinian flag at a cricket match in Kolkata; an imam was arrested for making a prayer for Gaza in a mosque in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh; and major mosques in Kashmir have been shut down on Fridays (the days of congregational prayer) as a preventative measure to nip pro-Palestine rallies in the bud.

Online, the disinformation campaign against Palestine is used by Hindutva supporters to fan the flames of Islamophobia globally. Far-right Hindu Twitter/X users consistently inundate the platform with the hashtag #IslamIsTheProblem under posts related to both India and Israel, reinforcing the dangerous Islamophobic stereotype that Muslims pose an existential threat to all other groups.

If the still-fresh genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar holds any lesson, it’s that online hatred rarely stays online. It radicalizes societies, leads to violence, and then allows for the glib justification of mass atrocities against victim groups.

The fact that Hindutva supporters are so enthusiastically spreading this hatred to justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in real-time should be a warning sign. It will not stop with Palestinians. It will not stop with Indian Muslims. It is just one part of a larger effort to demonize Muslims globally. If these far-right nationalists aren’t put in check by the social media platforms they’ve weaponized, the consequences — as we are already seeing in the United States — will also be global.